From the website of Australian TV network ABC. Click here to view the debate.
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Here is some background notes to tonight’s debate. When Professor Ian Plimer’s outright denial of man-made global warming was championed in the UK Spectator magazine earlier this year after the publication of his book Heaven and Earth in Britain, the magazine’s editor promoted the idea of a great public debate in London between Professor Plimer and the Guardian’s George Monbiot. Monbiot is a renowned champion of climate science. In the end, George Monbiot’s key condition for the debate, that Professor Plimer first answer in writing a series of questions about claims in his book was not met, the debate was cancelled. And tonight, with no preconditions, George Monbiot joins us in Copenhagen and Ian Plimer is here in our Sydney studio.
Thanks to both of you for being there.
TONY JONES: And let’s start with George Monbiot, because you recently wrote, “There’s no point in denying it: we’re losing. Climate change denial is spreading like a contagious disease.” Now, coming from you that’s rather a startling conclusion. How did you reach it?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, the surveys show that large numbers of people have effectively ceased to believe that man-made global warming is taking place, and this is profoundly ironic because at the same time the evidence has hardened up to a startling degree. And the science of man-made global warming is now as solid as the science linking smoking with lung cancer and HIV with AIDS. And it seems to me that the harder the science becomes, the more people fall into denial because they simply don’t want to face the writing that’s now on the wall.
TONY JONES: It’s odd that you should say that because if it’s true that this is what’s happening with the general public, it’s not filtering up to the leaders that are on their way to Copenhagen, evidently.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes, I think this is one of the rare instances where governments are continuing to do the right thing, even if in some cases it might be politically costly for them. Now the reason governments have taken that position is that they have scientific advisors who follow the science very closely, who understand what the science is saying, and are extremely alarmed by the implications and have managed to express that alarm to their leaders. And the leaders know that if they don’t take serious action on climate change, then we’re going to get into a situation which will be extremely dangerous for many of the world’s people.
TONY JONES: Ian Plimer, let me bring you in. Now, is that a fair assessment, do you think, that what’s going on is that there is a movement, a shift away from belief in climate change in the general public? That it’s not at the leadership level of governments, because scientific advisors are telling their governments this is actually happening?
IAN PLIMER: I spend a lot of my time in the outbacks with average people, talking to people. There has been a huge movement, and I don’t think governments are in contact with it. But what I think is happening is governments just cannot resist the opportunity to tax us more, to set up huge bureaucracies, and this is what Copenhagen’s about. It’s not about science, it’s not about morality, it’s not about the Third World – it’s about money, and it’s about governments putting their hands in our pockets, taking out our money, and having to go through sets of sticky fingers to end up disappearing somewhere else in the world. And backing that up is science, which certainly we’ve seen from the University of East Anglia, is at best really dodgy.
TONY JONES: George Monbiot, that’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it, the leaked emails from the climatic research unit of the University of East Anglia? Let’s talk about the impact first that’s actually had on this debate. Because you’ve written – once again, you’ve written, “No-one has been as badly let down by the revelations in these emails as those of us who have championed the science.”
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes. What those emails show are correspondence which I believe is unscientific, in that they have sought to suppress data, and it has not been released properly to the public, and I think that’s completely contrary to the spirit of science. Science has to be open and it has to be transparent. What the emails do not show is that global warming is a hoax and a scam and a con and all the rest of it as people like Ian Plimer suggest. What they possibly do is to raise a question about one or two out of several hundred lines of evidence that man-made global warming is taking place and raise questions possibly about the integrity of three or four scientists. But there are tens of thousands of scientists involved in climate change whose evidence stands and has not been affected by this. And what Ian has been proposing is the standard old conspiracy theory, a conspiracy theory which would have to involve tens of thousands of people if it were to be true, that all the scientists and all the governments are getting together to make up a completely unfounded story about climate change in order to tax us, disregarding the fact, of course, that if governments are serious about this and do pursue it through Copenhagen, they lose vast revenues in terms of the money that they make from the fossil fuel industry. They have to reshape the global economy in a way that most of them are deeply reluctant to do. And let me tell you that if this is a great global conspiracy, it’s a hell of an infective one, because these guys can’t even make a firm agreement on climate change, let alone pursue it so that they can all extract billions and billions in taxes as Ian Plimer suggests.
TONY JONES: Ian Plimer, do you actually regard this as evidence of a global conspiracy?
IAN PLIMER: Not at all and I’ve never used those words at all. What we see with these emails are Mafia-type bullying tactics on editors to stop them publishing work which is somewhat different. We see source codes of computers which are designed to change results, we see this cooking of the evidence, we see conspiracies by using words such as “tricks” – that’s about all we would see. Now, the scientists involved are a handful of the major scientists who are driving this agenda. These are the major scientists who are behind the IPCC, and this UN conference in Copenhagen is based on what those major scientists have given as evidence. We see in those emails that one scientist has got $25 million from 55 research grants from frightening us witless. This is Jones, and the Jones and Wigley record is the reference standard for the IPCC. Now we have to say that that standard has been contaminated, it has been polluted, that is not a conspiracy. The emails show that, the reports show that, the source code shows that. This is the biggest scientific fraud in history.
TONY JONES: The biggest scientific fraud in history.
IAN PLIMER: … fraud in history.
TONY JONES: Alright. Well let me throw that back to George Monbiot.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yeah.
TONY JONES: George, just hang on for one second. Let me quote to you, because you’ve written about this yourself. One of the worst emails – this from the head of the unit Phil Jones. He was just talked about there. He’s trying to make sure several papers don’t make it into the IPCC report and he says, “Kevin and I will keep them out somehow even if we have to redefine what the peer-reviewed literature is.” Is there any excuse at all for what he said there?
GEORGE MONBIOT: I don’t believe there is. No, I don’t believe there is an excuse for that. And I condemn in the strongest terms some of the sentiments expressed in those emails. But to suggest that this is the whole of the IPCC infrastructure we’re talking about, these are all the scientists who count, is simply preposterous. And I have to say that Ian is a fine one to talk about scientific fraud. His book is filled with fabrication after fabrication, simple untruths repeated again and again. And even when people point out to him that he has just made up the facts that he states in his book, he keeps restating them. Take, for example, his claim that human beings produce more carbon dioxide than volcanoes. Now, the US geological survey shows that human beings – sorry, he suggests that volcanoes produce more carbon dioxide than human beings. The US geological survey shows that human beings produce 130 times more carbon dioxide than volcanoes. And yet again and again, however many times it is pointed out to him, Ian keeps reporting this straightforward fraud, this fabrication that volcanoes produce more CO2.
TONY JONES: Let’s hear Ian Plimer respond to that. Do you stand by the claim in your book that volcanoes produce more CO2 than the world’s cars and industries combined?
IAN PLIMER: Well I’m very heartened that a journalist is correcting me on my geology. Now Mr Monbiot wrote to me when I asked him some questions of science and said he was not qualified to answer these questions of science. So he’s a journalist and he’s asking me a scientific question. He has not read this book …
GEORGE MONBIOT: Could you answer the question, please?
IAN PLIMER: He has not read this book.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Do you stand by your claim or not?
IAN PLIMER: He has not – it is the height of bad manners to interrupt.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Do you stand by your claim or not?
IAN PLIMER: It is the height of bad manners to interrupt.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Could you answer the question. Could you just answer the question.
TONY JONES: George Monbiot, just hang on. I will ask the same question of you if I can because I did raise that.
IAN PLIMER: And in this book I referred to a number of types of volcanoes. There are two types, and I know you haven’t read the book. He certainly hasn’t read the book …
TONY JONES: It’s not true that I haven’t read your book, as I told you last time. I suspect that George Monbiot has also …
GEORGE MONBIOT: And I have also read the book.
TONY JONES: But I have actually read your book.
IAN PLIMER: Well, let me make two points on this. On the chapter called Earth I talk about two volcanoes. One are the terrestrial volcanoes, which is the USGS reports on emissions of carbon dioxide, but more than 85 per cent of the world’s volcanoes we do not measure, we do not see, these are submarine volcanoes that release carbon dioxide and we deduce from the chemistry of the rocks how much carbon dioxide is released.
TONY JONES: Can I ask you a question about that, if you don’t mind? Because one British journalist whom you quoted those exact figures to went back to the US geological survey after you told him about this 85 per cent figure, and asked he them to confirm their claim that actually 130 times the amount of CO2 is produced by man than volcanoes. The volcanologist Dr Terrance Gerlach confirmed that figure and said furthermore that in their counting they count the undersea volcanoes. So your response to that.
IAN PLIMER: My response is that there are 220,000 undersea volcanoes that we know about. There’s 64,000 kilometres of undersea volcanoes which we do …
GEORGE MONBIOT: Which they have counted.
IAN PLIMER: It is the height of bad manners to interrupt. Please restrain yourself. And we have 64,000 kilometres of volcanoes in submarine environments with massive super volcanoes there. We do not measure them. And the figures that I have used are deduced from the chemistry of rocks which erupt on the sea floor.
TONY JONES: OK. Now, that’s that point dealt with. George Monbiot, a quick response to that and then we’ll move on to other questions.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yeah, sure. I mean, it’s, again, straightforward fabrication. Ian produces no new evidence to suggest that the USGS figures are wrong. He keeps citing this statement that they don’t include submarine volcanoes. It’s been pointed out to him many, many times that the USGS figures do include submarine volcanoes. And actually, it’s the height of bad manners Professor Plimer to lie on national television about something that you know to be plain wrong.
TONY JONES: OK. Ian Plimer, let me go to another point, because there are a whole series of questions raised by George Monbiot and put on the public record about your book. You state that the Hadley Centre in the UK has shown that warming stopped in 1998. Where exactly does the Hadley Centre say that?
IAN PLIMER: There are four major centres measuring temperature. You asked me this question before on Lateline. You should get a different game. There were four major centres that measure temperature, and these are done from thermometers, and as we know, temperature centres move, they change in altitude, they change in measuring technique, and they’re done from radio sons and their done from satellites. I cannot give you the exact reference here. I can look it up in this book right now and give it to you in 10 seconds. But what this book has shown is that if you’ve claimed you’ve read it, and if Mr Monbiot has claimed he’s read it, why didn’t you look at page 481. Because in page 481, I nailed the CRU in the University of East Anglia. It’s in his backyard. It’s a few yards from him. He fawningly accepted everything they said and criticised everything I have said. Now why didn’t he work as a journalist?
TONY JONES: Just on this very question though.
IAN PLIMER: I will get the reference for you on it, but I will have to chase it up in here. There are 2,311 references here.
TONY JONES: Indeed, but let’s go back to George Monbiot because he put, I think, 15 or 16 questions about your book on the public record and he sent them to you, so we presumed you’d seen those questions. George Monbiot.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes, they were very straightforward questions. All of them were simply asking for evidence of the claims made in your book, or indeed for references for those claims. You failed repeatedly to answer those questions. However many times I asked, you made up dog-eat-my-homework excuses until eventually the deadline ran out. And it was a quite deliberate ploy not to answer these very simply straightforward questions of scientific fact. And on that question of the temperature record, where you say there’s been no further warming since 1998, the meteorological office responded directly to that claim that you made and said it was complete nonsense, that all the figures show very clearly that this has been the warmest decade of the entire temperature record going back to 1850, and that eight out of the 10 warmest years on record have been since 2001. And what you have done is to cherrypick that 1998 date because it happens to be the record-ever temperature date and to say temperatures have declined since then. But were you to take 1997, or 1999, or any single year in the entirety of the 20th Century except for 1998, you would have found that temperatures have risen. That is an indication of the quality of your argument and the quality, I’m afraid, of your fabrication.
TONY JONES: Your response, Ian Plimer.
IAN PLIMER: My response is I challenge Mr Monbiot to a debate; he put some questions to me; I said that’s highly unusual; I’ll put questions to you. I put 13 simple scientific questions to him. He ducked for cover and said, “I am not qualified to answer questions of science.” Yet he writes on science. So I talk now to a journalist and not anyone who’s got any knowledge about science. Please explain how we had 600 years of the Roman warming, when temperatures were higher than now, and we didn’t have higher sea levels and we didn’t have industry. Please explain how we had a medieval warming of 400 years, temperatures were much, much higher, we didn’t have industry, we didn’t have super-high sea levels, and please explain why the people who you’ve supported for so long have actually tried to get rid of that medieval warming, ’cause it’s very inconvenient. Now, a journalist can answer that; a scientist he is not.
TONY JONES: OK. At the present moment we were talking about your claims about it cooling over the last 10 years. And can I ask you this: do you adjust your position when new information comes to light? Because for example, last week we had the World Meteorological Organisation release their annual statement which says the first decade of the 21st Century is likely to be the warmest on record, that 2009 is set to be the fifth warmest year on record. Are they credible?
IAN PLIMER: A couple of points. That is a projection; we haven’t yet finished this year. The second thing is the Bureau of Meteorology told us in England it was going to be a barbecue summer. It was not. They also told us that 2007 was going to be the hottest year on record. And what both of you journalists omit is that beautiful four letter word: time. If you look back in time, you can see that over the last 4,500 years, we’ve had 75 major temperature changes. We’ve had periods when it’s been much warmer than now. Please explain that.
TONY JONES: But could that be – I’m sorry to put this to you again, as I did in the last interview I did with you, but could that possibly because you repeat time and time again, 16 times in one chapter, that the world has cooled in the last 10 years?
IAN PLIMER: Well, we’re looking at time over historical times, archaeological and geological times. You are trying to focus on one year or five years and tell us this is the future of the planet. I am saying that we get the future from looking at the past. And what journalists, and Mr Monbiot is a journalist. He has no scientific qualifications, because he said that to me, he’s written it to me. What you are trying to do is to ignore the past and to frighten people witless about things which are happening today.
TONY JONES: OK. Alright. George Monbiot.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Right, I find this absolutely fascinating. Professor Plimer is asked a straightforward question: can he still justify his statement that it has cooled this century? Instead he goes off on a long rambling disquisition about who asked what to whom, about medieval warming, about warming 4,000 years ago, and he will not answer that question. And then accuses, as if it’s a terrible thing, us of being journalists. Well the purpose of journalists is to press people to answer questions. The purpose of scientists is to be open and transparent and to answer those questions. And Professor Plimer just ducks and dives and evades and avoids at every opportunity, and he’s doing the same today. He hasn’t answered that question that Tony put to him and that I pressed him on about temperatures cooling this century, because he can’t because it was yet another fabrication in his book. And to support that fabrication he’s now giving us a whole load of new fabrications about the medieval warming period and the Roman temperature record and temperature records 4,000 years ago, when the science shows unequivocally that it is warmer today than at any of those periods that he mentions. And the only science which doesn’t show that is the fabricated science where Plimer has quite deliberately pulled out figures or made them up altogether in his book.
TONY JONES: Ian Plimer, is it reasonable for journalists to ask questions about something which you repeatedly claim in your book and to actually get answers to those questions?
IAN PLIMER: I would have to check the references in this on the last 10 years. That I will do. Mr Monbiot is talking about pressing people. In his backyard was the CRU. He fawningly accepted everything they said, and they conned him. He was so easy to con.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Answer the question, Professor Plimer.
IAN PLIMER: The second thing is he talks about is two new …
GEORGE MONBIOT: Answer the question, Professor Plimer.
IAN PLIMER: It is the height of bad manners to interrupt. Please allow me to finish.
GEORGE MONBIOT: You are evading the question again.
IAN PLIMER: He raised a new subject, and that was …
GEORGE MONBIOT: Well please answer the question. It is the height of bad manners to evade the question.
TONY JONES: George Monbiot, hang on a second.
IAN PLIMER: It was a new fabrication about the medieval warming. Now, can Mr Bonbiot (sic) show me where that comes from, because we know that wheat, barley and cattle and sheep were on Greenland in places where there’s ice now. Was Greenland warmer or not? Now that is not a new fabrication. Second thing is, in Roman times, in his country, up near where he lives, they grew grapes. Is that a fabrication? Now he says these are new fabrications.
TONY JONES: OK. Alright. I’m gonna stick to some of the questions that Mr Monbiot’s been asking you. The issue of measuring temperatures at the heart of this. Once again, you take issue with Ian Plimer’s claim that satellites and radio sons show there is no global warming. Tell us why?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes, well this is fascinating, because he for once gives a reference to that claim, so you’re able to go back and check the reference and see if indeed it says what he says it says. And do you know what, it says precisely the opposite of what he says. It’s a paper by Charles F. Keller and it said that the recent data from satellite and radio sons, which are weather balloons, the recent data blows away the contention that there has been no further warming. And what does Plimer do? He takes that bit, saying, “No further warming,” and suggests that the paper is claiming that the satellites and radio sons show there’s been no further warming. Again, turning round the conclusions 180 degrees, straightforward scientific fraud.
TONY JONES: Alright. We’re nearly out of time, but I’m gonna have to get you to respond to that. This is a paper you do quote by Charles Keller. You stand by your quotation.
IAN PLIMER: There is a dispute on how you tweak the satellite data. And that can give you the answer you want. We know from measuring temperature at thermometer sites that’s totally unreliable as well.
TONY JONES: Can I just ask, do you stand by your selection of the Keller quote?
IAN PLIMER: Selection: I think that’s a very moralistic word. I have scanned …
TONY JONES: But you’ve only taken a part of the overall …
IAN PLIMER: Which page are we talking about?
TONY JONES: Yes, it’s page 383.
GEORGE MONBIOT: You turned it around 180 degrees. You actually made up – you made up the conclusion to what the paper said.
IAN PLIMER: 383. And it’s about the treatment of data. Well the treatment of the data is very interesting. For example, we go to any measuring site, and I’ve got one here for Mildura showing that there are 11 changes since we started to measure data there. That’s unreliable.
TONY JONES: OK. But just a quick question.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Answer the question, Professor Plimer.
TONY JONES: I’m sorry, we’re nearly out of time, so, I have to just ask you …
IAN PLIMER: It’s quite interesting the way that journalists handle science. If you don’t want to hear the message, you bully people.
GEORGE MONBIOT: You made up what the reference said. Answer the question. Answer the question.
IAN PLIMER: You want to bully people rather than deal with evidence.
TONY JONES: George Monbiot, just hang on. Sorry.
IAN PLIMER: Now, there is an enormous …
GEORGE MONBIOT: We are pressing you … OK …
IAN PLIMER: For God sake, get some manners young man. There is an enormous dispute as to how …
GEORGE MONBIOT: We are pressing you …
TONY JONES: George Monbiot, hang on a second, please.
IAN PLIMER: … you measure temperature from satellites, because you have to put a huge number of corrections there. That is what I question, is one paper that might have one set of corrections and another paper that might have another set of corrections. And this is the same way temperature is measured. The same with ground temperatures. We have ground temperatures that get corrected all the time. But again, you are looking at the last few years, you’re not looking back in time where every temperature change and every climate change has been more rapid and greater than ever we see today.
GEORGE MONBIOT: You are evading the question. The question was …
TONY JONES: George Monbiot, a final point. Sorry, we’re nearly out of time.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Sure, sure. A classic example of Professor Plimer evading the question. The question was: did you reverse the findings of the reference that you cited. Answer: yes he did. But will he answer that question? The heck he will. And it is, again, I say, the height of bad manners not to answer the very straightforward question which has been put to you, but you can’t answer it because you have made up the facts.
IAN PLIMER: And why does Mr Monbiot use blog sites where the bloggers are paid to smear scientists. This is DeSmogBlog, which is paid for by the Suzuki Foundation, and those people who donate to Greenpeace and the Suzuki Foundation are putting money in to blog sites to smear scientists, those which he uses as a journalist. He’s got no scientific knowledge whatsoever. And as a journalist he uses those to smear people who in a society are coming up with a different view, and my view is based on time, on history.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Again, pure distraction. You are again evading the question, you are evading the issues. It’s just a fascinating exercise in evasion and distraction. Why won’t Professor Plimer ever answer the straightforward questions that are put to him?
IAN PLIMER: Well let me give you a straightforward question.
TONY JONES: OK, I’m sorry. I’m gonna have to cut it off there because we could go all night, obviously, and there are many more questions besides. But we will have to leave the debate there for tonight. We thank you both for joining us – George Monbiot in Copenhagen, Ian Plimer here in Sydney. Thank you.